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Literature / The Illustrated Mum

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A 1999 drama novel written by Jacqueline Wilson, told from the perspective of 10-year-old Dolphin Westwood as she lives with her older sister Star, and their mother Marigold. Although both love her, they are concerned for Marigold's wellbeing, particularly as she suffers from a mental illness and self-medicates through copious bottles of vodka, staying out late, and living in the past. The title is a pun on Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man, and is the nickname of Marigold throughout the book due to her elaborate tattoos.

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The book was adapted into a BBC show in 2003.


This book and film provide examples of:

  • Adult Fear:
    • Dolphin has stated that on occasion, Marigold's ex-boyfriends have returned.
    • Star, only 13, hooks up with Mark, who is 16. Despite being only 3 years older than her, Mark is still heavily interested in Star, who has only just become a teenager.
    • A minor being left in the care of a mentally ill parent.
    • The film adaptation doesn't make this any better. Dolphin wakes up to an eerily silent flat, Marigold nowhere to be seen, until Dolphin hears something knocking over. It's a paint can, but someone who hasn't read the book might interpret this as Marigold hanging herself.
  • Affectionate Nickname: "Dolly" for Dolphin, "Goldie" for Marigold, and "Twinkle" for Star.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Averted. Marigold is diagnosed later in the book to suffer from bipolar disorder, and Dolphin is dyslexic.
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  • All of the Other Reindeer: Dolphin is bullied horribly at her school by both classmates and her teacher.
  • Alcoholic Parent: Marigold is never far from a bottle of vodka. She appears to be occasionally ashamed of it, seeing as she tries to pass it off as water to Dolphin. It doesn't work.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Deconstructed - Marigold insists that Micky is the love of her life even though they were together for only a few weeks and he left after unknowingly getting her pregnant. When she does reunite with him, Micky sticks around only to take Star with him before abandoning a despondent Marigold again, and Dolphin has to deal with the consequences. Meanwhile, the title character almost never talks about Michael, but he proves himself to be both sensible and considerate by doing what is best for Dolphin and visiting Marigold in the hospital.
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  • Animal Motifs: Played with - Dolphin is obviously associated a lot with dolphins, but she mentions she gets sick of being stuck with them all the time and she doesn't even know how to swim.
  • Berserk Button: Marigold hates being called "crazy" - Dolphin unthinkingly says it when they're wandering around Brighton to find Mickey and Marigold slaps Dolphin in the face - though she is horrified immediately after.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Dolphin is small and is a very endearing and cute character, but don't piss her off.
    Oliver: You are fierce, Dolphin. I'm glad you're on my side.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Though she is frequently irritated with having to take care of Dolphin, Star won't tolerate anyone bullying her little sister and she does her best to shield Dolphin from Marigold's episodes.
  • Birds of a Feather: Dolphin and Oliver become friends because both of them are heavily bullied.
  • Break the Cutie: This happens to Dolphin when Star leaves to be with Mickey, sending Marigold into her mental breakdown as a result.
  • Britain is Only London: The only locations noted in the book are London and Brighton, which is colloquially nicknamed as "London-by-the-Sea". The family lives on Beacon Road, a real place in London, according to the address Dolphin gives the hospital.
  • Calling Parents by Their Name: Star and Dolphin both call their mother by her name, because she acts more like a big sister and best friend than a caregiver.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Marigold insists that Mickey is the love of her life, even though it's implied their relationship was just a summer fling and Mickey is visibly put off by how clingy and insistent Marigold is, especially since he has a girlfriend by the time Marigold tracks him down and tells him about Star.
  • Cool Old Lady: Jane, the foster woman who takes Dolphin in temporarily while Marigold is in hospital, is nothing but understanding and kind towards the obviously confused and upset Dolphin.
  • Cool Teacher: Mr.Harrison, who bonds with Dolphin and Oliver and is generally an affable, intelligent guy, a sharp contrast to Ms. Hill.
  • Daddy's Girl: As soon as Micky shows up, Star becomes this, despite claiming that whenever she's with him she's worrying about Dol and Marigold. Dolphin calls her out for this.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Star. Especially by the end.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Yvonne and Kayleigh, two girls who horribly bully Dolphin, are picking on her as usual when one of them asks why Marigold hasn't shown up at school to pick Dolphin up and asks if she's dead. Dolphin bursts into tears because she's terrified Marigold is dead and the bullies actually feel awful about this and start comforting her.
  • Fiery Redhead: Marigold, though it's implied that she dyes her hair red.
  • Flower Motifs: Marigold has a tattoo of a marigold, her namesake.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: Dolphin at one point wishes Star were younger, so that she could go back to when she used to enjoy Marigold's eccentric behaviours. She brings up a happy memory of one time when Marigold surprised her daughters by filling the entire fridge with ice-cream, something that delighted them at the time. Star however points out that Marigold used up all the money for food that week, which left them with nothing to eat but bread and carrots, and then cut her finger chopping the carrots and wouldn't go into hospital to have it treated.
  • Heel Realization: Star has one when she learns of Marigold being hospitalised.
    • Miss Hill spends most of the book being disgracefully cruel towards Dolphin. Once the school is made aware of her situation, she starts being more sympathetic to Dolphin.
  • Meaningful Name: Dolphin's name was decided because her dad, Michael, taught Marigold how to swim, and Star's because Micky is the "star of [Marigold's] heart".
  • My Beloved Smother: Oliver's mum, though we never meet her in person, but from what we hear of her over the phone, seems to fit this description to a T.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Marigold has this reaction when she slaps Dolphin in the face during a moment of frustration - she even begs Dolphin to hit her back as a punishment.
    • Dolphin has this reaction when she smashes the phone Mickey bought them in a fit of rage when Star refuses to come home.
  • The One That Got Away: Although Michael is Happily Married, he seems rather wistful at being reminded of Marigold and asks if she remembers him when he visits her in hospital.
  • Only Friend: Oliver and Dolphin are each others.
  • Parental Favoritism: Though she loves both her girls, Marigold favors Star in many situations, mostly because she's Micky's daughter, something that upsets Dolphin because she's the one who chooses to stay with Marigold when Micky offers to take both girls. Dolphin herself sums it up best:
    Dolphin: I'm not anyone's favourite!
  • Parental Neglect: Dolphin and Star, both only 10 and 13 (nearly fourteen) respectively, are often left on their own in their flat.
  • Promotion to Parent: Played for Drama, as Star mentions in a rant to Dolphin that she's been caring for her younger sister since she herself was just a kid and Marigold's erratic behaviour robbed Star of having a normal childhood.
  • Reality Ensues: Dolphin searches for her father when Marigold, her mother, is taken into hospital with bipolar disorder. Dolphin is successful, and Michael, her father, is genuinely pleased to meet her. At the same time, however, Michael points out that being blood relatives does not override the fact that Dolphin is a complete stranger to him, and hence they must get to know each other properly before he can adopt her. Dolphin complains that Micky just took Star with him, but she later discovers he's very quick to put Star back, as well.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Star frequently does this to Marigold.
    • Dolphin gives one to both Star and Marigold about Micky.
  • Scars Are Forever: Marigold has two diamond tattoos covering up two scars on her wrist, which are the result of her apparent suicide attempt before Star and Dolphin were born.
  • Shipper on Deck: When Dolphin brings Oliver to her house to meet Marigold, Star later teases her sister about Oliver being her "boyfriend" and seems rather fond of the boy.
  • Skipping School: Dolphin's shocked when Oliver's willing to do this and risk getting into trouble to help her find her father. When she sees how easy it is to just walk out of school though, she wonders why she's never done it before.
  • Undying Loyalty: Dolphin to Marigold, as she refuses to go with Star and Mickey when he offers them to live with him. Her dislike of Mickey is also a factor, but Dolphin refuses to abandon Marigold even if it means she'll be separated from Star.
  • Wacky Parent, Serious Child: Marigold genuinely cares for both of her daughters, but is highly susceptible to exaggerated mood swings and extreme behaviors, which worry Dolphin, frustrate Star, and present severe negative consequences for the entire family. Dolphin is bullied at her school and has only one friend, because all of her classmates know about Marigold's unusual ways. Micky, Star's father, is implied to find Marigold's wackiness unbearable. Towards the end of the story, Dolphin learns that Marigold suffers from bipolar disorder, and hence has to be temporarily hospitalized.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Star gives one to Dolphin after they are reunited in foster care for lying to her about Marigold going on a crazy rampage in an attempt to guilt-trip Star into coming home and smashing the phone so Star was unable to contact them. Dolphin retorts with her own What the Hell, Hero? by pointing out that Star left her alone with Marigold and was too busy being fawned over by Mickey.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: It's Oliver, an eleven-year-old boy, who successfully tracks down Dolphin's father based on the very limited information she knows about him and figures out how to get there. Star counts as a deconstructed example, since she in many ways acts as the caretaker of the family, looking after Dolphin when Marigold stays out all night and taking on many adult responsibilities, such as shopping for food.

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